Belfast prepares to join the city cycling revolution
Proposals for a bike-sharing scheme hinges on corporate sponsorship
The Titanic Quarter in Belfast: one of the ambitions for the city’s bike scheme is to create a stronger network between Belfast’s traditional city centre business district and new emerging business areas such as Titanic Quarter. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
New York has 6,000; London has an estimated 8,000; while Dublin shortly plans to have 1,500 in operation. Belfast at the moment has zero. So what is it that the city is missing?
The answer is a bike share scheme and today Belfast City Council will launch what it believes is a “unique chance” for businesses to get involved in it.
It is hosting what it describes as a bidder’s day event at city hall, which the council hopes will inspire one organisation or a “cocktail” of sponsors to come up with the necessary cash to get a scheme up and running.
New York’s bike sharing system is sponsored by Citigroup while London’s Boris Bikes as they are known are sponsored by Barclays, the financial services group. Will Belfast prove an attractive proposition for major corporations?
Belfast City Council is confident it can sell the potential of getting a bike scheme on the road to prospective sponsors.It secured nearly £699,000 in funding last year from the North’s Department for Regional Development to develop a public bike hire scheme.
But Councillor Deirdre Hargey, chairperson of the council’s development committee, says the city needs business organisations to get involved with the scheme, firstly to deliver it but also in a sponsorship role to help make it work.
The council is hoping to attract business sponsorship of about £300,000 to £400,000 over a three-year period.
Hargey says the new venture gives companies an opportunity to develop stronger ties with Belfast and she says that as an “up-and-coming cosmopolitan city” this could help give organisations exposure to not only residents of the city but also visitors.
She says the council is not concerned that potential blue-chip corporate sponsors could be anxious about the negative impact of what Hargey describes as “isolated events” in the city such as the flags protest earlier in the year.
“The public bike hire scheme says a lot about Belfast’s ambitions – it highlights the changes that are taking place in the city and the kind of city we want Belfast to be. We’ve learnt a lot about how other cities such as Dublin and New York operate similar bike hire schemes – we’ve learnt from their experiences and we know how important these schemes have been in connecting cities. For example in Dublin one of the biggest users of the scheme is the business community. Their scheme has helped connect business districts and we hope to be able to replicate that in Belfast,” she said.
One of the ambitions for the Belfast bike scheme is to create a stronger network between Belfast’s traditional city centre business district and new emerging business areas such as Titanic Quarter.
Hargey says Belfast is also keen to reproduce the success other bike schemes such as New York’s Citi Bike has promoted in bringing local communities together and encouraging visitors to venture off the beaten track.
Its member meet-up events are designed to highlight local communities and there is an economic spin-off from the bike scheme for different areas – for example its night-time bridge ride runs promotions with local shops and pubs.
Since its launch in 2009 it is estimated that nearly six million journeys have been completed on Dublinbikes, while Transport for London claims that more than 25 million total cycle hires have taken place since its scheme went live in 2010.
According to some research there is evidence to suggest that successful cycle networks help revitalise certain communities because they bring new spending power into those areas that people might not have chosen to travel to either by bus or car.
Belfast City Council hopes that the first phase of its bike scheme, which will initially feature 300 bikes in 30 docking stations, will in the long run deliver benefits for neighbours across the city.